Safety and OSHA News

Nearly $1.5M in fines for 2 worker deaths in unprotected 12-foot deep trench

Imagine this: You’re working in an unprotected trench when, not only does it collapse but a nearby fire hydrant instantly floods the excavation with water. Two men met their deaths in Boston that way, and now their employer faces a seven-figure fine. 

OSHA has fined Atlantic Drain Service Co. Inc. $1,475,813 for 18 willful, repeat, serious and other-than-serious violations.

On Oct. 21, 2016, Robert Higgins, 47, and Kelvin Mattocks, 53, were part of a crew excavating a trench in Boston. When soil gave way in the trench, a nearby fire hydrant collapsed into the hole, quickly filling it with water. The water mixed with the clay-like soil, trapping Higgins and Mattocks within seconds below the rising water, killing them.

OSHA says Atlantic Drain didn’t:

  • install a support system to protect employees in a 12-foot deep trench from a cave-in and prevent the adjacent fire hydrant from collapsing
  • remove employees from the hazardous conditions in the trench
  • train the workers in how to identify and address hazards associated with trenching
  • provide a ladder at all times so employees could exit the trench
  • support structures next to the trench that posed overhead hazards, and
  • provide employees with hardhats and eye protection.

OSHA cited Atlantic Drain for similar hazards at trenching worksites in 2007 and 2012.

Under OSHA regulations, protection against cave-in hazards must be provided when excavations are deeper than five feet.

Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator said the company “knew what safeguards were needed to protect its employees but chose to ignore that responsibility.”

Atlantic Drain has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to meet with OSHA’s area director or contest the fines to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

On top of the OSHA fines, Atlantic Drain and its sole officer, Kevin Otto, each face two counts of manslaughter in connection with the deaths. A grand jury returned additional indictments against the company and Otto, including six counts of concealing a record under the evidence tampering statute.

The indictments allege Otto and Atlantic Drain provided fraudulent records in response to federal subpoenas during the investigation.

Otto and the company are scheduled to go on trial Feb. 5, 2018. They’ve pleaded not guilty to the charges. Otto faces maximum 20-year prison sentences for each manslaughter count. His company also faces a maximum penalty of $1,000.

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  1. Unfortunately this is not uncommon. Awareness of excavation hazards and responsible actions appears to be limited to those who have experienced a tragedy. Other knowledgeable employers seem to trade safe protocols for expediency and profit.

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